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The Mind Screen

Identification Desire and Its Cinematic Arena

Georg Schmid

For well over a century cinema has exerted enormous influence, yet many questions regarding its fascination remain unanswered. Films work so well because the viewers tend to unconsciously identify with the actors/actresses. The desire to become another, substituting identity by identification, can be traced to the illusion that the filmic heroes/heroines are immortal – identifying with them raises the possibility of gaining «deathlessness.» Viewers can, without real life risks, experiment with the existential drafts presented; the power of imagination is mobilized. Based on a multidisciplinary approach (semiotics, psychoanalysis, cultural anthropology, plus a healthy dose of film history), this book presents prolegomena of a philosophy of cinema.

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18 The Likeliness of an Unhappy End

Extract

Back to the ends, happy and unhappy. However much you may long for a happy end, you’re in for an unhappy one (usually referred to as death), the odds are that you’re in for a very unpleasant one (long, severe illness, no mercy in terms of euthanasia because the state doesn’t approve). Such is the nature of life–the meaning of life: Brian’s end isn’t pleasant at all. (It’s improbable in the extreme that you will die instantaneously without ever knowing what’s happening to you.) In view of life’s indubitable ugly outcome it’s difficult to always look at the bright side (“but I’m Brian!”). Strangely, it is considered to be trite to talk about looming death (though that seems much less ponderous when it is projected on religious beliefs as it will supposedly just lead to the continuance of life under more clem- ent auspices). Anyway, I propose to present some reflections on why unhappy ends in the cinema are more frequent than one might assume. It is not at all necessary to think of intentionally dark movies: the knight playing chess with death. Everybody immediately knows that Max von Sydow can never win. It suffices to think of mainstream movies that seem to be oh so distant from art house cinema. Time and again you come across movies where you’d rather expect a happy ending–and then you are confronted with its contrary. Sometimes it is a kind of disavowal of a concrete, “classic” happy end, throwing you off...

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